Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mile High Hockey - Justin G and Link's Hockey Road Trip

One of the joys of traveling to different arenas is seeing what local flavors the concession stands have.  Every building has hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, Dippin’ Dots (the future of ice cream for over 30 years!). Where the fun begins is when the places branch out.  And let me tell you, there is no better place for arena eating then the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The Colorado Avalanche’s home arena opened in 1999 and has aged pretty well.  The sightlines are nice, the concourses are wide enough and the video screen in the middle of the ice is large (it also tracks blocked shots, hits and faceoff percentage which is pretty nice). The seats in club level (big spender!) were comfortable. I was able to sit next to Link (all 6’4” of him) and another gentleman of larger dimensions without holding my breath entire game.

There wasn’t much in the way of original entertainment or different crowd celebrations (a la the weird hand jive thing in St. Louis) but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good experience.  Oh wait, I forget that we were at the peak of Mt. Loud!  For geography based team tie-ins that’s no worse or better than being in Hockey Bay, USA.

As for the crowd itself, they were fairly into the game I would say.  It was a close game against the Montreal Canadiens (resplendent in their road whites). Midway through the second Jarome Iginla bumped into goalie Ben Scrivens who went down faster than oil prices. With Scrivens down, Iginla popped the rebound into the back of the net to tie the game.  Unfortunately for the aged winger the referee waived off the goal and sent him to the penalty box.  The crowd was quite displeased and let it be known for the next two minutes.  Iginla would have his revenge as he tallied the game winner with two minutes left and denied me from seeing my first 3-on-3 overtime.

Fan jersey selection was strong as well.  There were a few Montreal sweaters sprinkled around the crowd, but most of the crowd was adorned in the home team colors.  For the record I wore a Lightning hat and Link had his obligatory Penguins hat and Hamilton Bearcats sweatshirt (which always draws a “Are ya from Hamilton, eh?” question). Nathan MacKinnon (Jo Drouin’s bestest buddy!) and Gabriel Landeskog were well represented.

What I was impressed with (other than the sheer number of different sweaters that the Avalanche have had in 20 years) is that the fans don’t seem to abandon jerseys even if the player no longer is on the team.  Dan Hinote, Martin Skoula, and Ian Laperriere jerseys were spotted among the expected Patrick Roy and Joe Sakics.

Seated next to me was a lovely couple, the aforementioned gentleman of ample girth (MacKinnon jersey) and his delightful wife (Semyon Varlamov jersey).  She kept up an adorable running commentary the entire game, encouraging the hometown boys for the whole 60 minutes. She was mostly positive in the way a mother watching a little league game it. I have the feeling she brings cookies for the players at season ticket holder meet and greets.

The Avalanche sent their supporters home happy as they scored in the dying moments of the game after Montreal superstar and hospital builder PK Subban made, in his coaches words, a “selfish play”.  Well the play was good but falling down in the offensive zone was not very good.

I am a huge fan of PK Subban. I honestly think he is one of the most enjoyable players to watch play in the NHL.  He is fluid skater with a great imagination who does things most defensemen wouldn’t even think of doing.  Unfortunately it does occasionally lead to turnovers at an unfortunate times, as was the case in Colorado.  

Favorite photo ever?  Maybe.

But enough about the game.  Let’s talk about the real number one star of this trip - the food.  Sadly Link and I had filled up on pizza at Lucky Pie before the game. I say sadly only because it meant I was full when I got to the Pepsi Center.  The pizza at Lucky Pie was very, very good. As was the Graham Cracker porter from Denver Brewing Company.

In addition to all of the usual selection there was copious beer options including craft and local.  There was a street taco stand.  There was a cupcake stand.  You could get what seemed like 14 different types of gourmet pretzels.  There was a barbeque place. THERE WAS A MINI DOUNT STAND! On the club level there was a huge bar people were just hanging out at.  I’m pretty sure some of them never even made it to their seats.

The club level seats also had an attendant that bring food to our seat. On his menu there was parmesan garlic fries.  Those sounded delightful.  Sadly we did not partake.  Nor did I take down the chicken and waffles even though I really, really wanted to.  I figured I had room for just one culinary delight.  So after the first period I went to a stand and ordered this:

Ladies and gentlemen I give you the Park Avenue. It is a champagne waffle on a stick with a blood orange sauce and fresh whipped cream.  It was just as good as it sounds. Will I point to it as the cause of my diabetes when I’m older, probably.  Will I spend a little longer on the treadmill today because of it, probably not.  Was it worth it?  MY GOD YES!

If you’re in Denver and the Avs are in town go to a game.  Tickets aren’t Florida cheap but they are reasonable.  We did splurge for the club level tickets ($80 on StubHub) because of some of our other hockey on this trip will be free and because a parking pass was included.  When I was ticket shopping I did see upper bowl seats in the $25-35 range. You can get a quality beer for less than $10 and the food options are multitude. Sadly all of the soda options are Pepsi (sorry Kristen), but if that’s the biggest drawback than you’re doing a pretty good job.  We were a little disappointed in the 50/50 raffle which topped out at $2300.  We didn’t win, but if we’re going to lose a 50/50 it would be nice if it was a bit more.

As I type we are jet bound to Phoenix to see what hockey in the desert is like.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the experience is like.  Hearing and reading so much about the beleaguered franchise makes me think that it will be a barren, depressed barn, but I remember that even in their woebegone days the Lightning experience was never not bad.  It will be interesting for sure.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Two Recaps for the Price of One

Game: 52 and 53
Opponent: Ottawa and Montreal
Score: 1-5 Loss and 2-4 Loss
Well. That was a fun trip through Canada, now wasn't it. When they crossed the border into the Great White North the Lightning were in second place in the Atlantic Division and ready to show the world that their recent winning streak wasn't restricted to the Sunshine State. Three days and two losses later, when asked if they had anything to declare at the border they responded with, “Yeah, we got our asses kicked.”

Nine goals (granted with the exchange rate it's only really like giving up 4 and ½ goals) allowed against two teams behind them in the standings is not good hockey. At least against Montreal they looked like they understood the game of hockey as opposed to their night in Ottawa. I'm not sure what game they were playing in Canada's capital city, but it sure wasn't hockey.

With their two losses the Lightning saw both Detroit and Boston leapfrog them in the standings. Now, instead of being comfortably in the playoffs (with home ice) they are in a wild card spot. Another loss and a New Jersey win and the Lightning are back out of the playoffs and the negative vibes can flow freely again.

Speaking of bad juju, it's funny how when the Lightning are losing the Steven Stamkos saga becomes more intense, but when they win it kind of fades to the background. While it's on my mind, let me lift the Stammergeddon ban for a second.

As the trade deadline nears who in their right mind would trade for Stamkos? And why would they part with anything of significance? If you were a GM would you pay the king's ransom for a player that you may have for the better part of two months (maybe two more if you make the playoffs?) If he's traded to a non-Toronto team, there is no way he signs an extension before July 1st.

So why trade a couple of high draft picks and top tier prospect? There is no way Mr. Yzerman is taking less than that for his captain and face of the franchise. Would Toronto trade for him? Would he waive his no-trade for Toronto? Maybe. If I'm not mistaken, that would allow the Maple Leafs to offer him the extra year as a free agent. Maybe that would be worth it. But if you're Mr. Yzerman the names William Nylander and Jake Gardiner better be the first words out of your mouth.

I don't believe he gets traded. At this point he re-signs with the Lightning or signs with Toronto in the off-season. Either way, I don't think there is an answer until July 1st. Now back to the team.

The team from the coach on down seemed to shake off the Ottawa loss as just one of those days. Every team has them. For whatever reason nothing seems to work and every mistake ends up in the back of the net. Case in point – Nikita Kucherov turns the puck over in the neutral zone, picks the wrong person to check in the defensive zone and the Senators turn it into a goal. Or Jason Garrison tries to clear the puck up the middle (something the Lightning do a lot of) and it's knocked down and poked past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Sadly it was one of the last things Mr. Garrison did in the game as he left the game after the first period. I'm no medical expert (nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express) but I do remember him throwing a check in the first period and falling backward awkwardly backwards, with his ankle bending underneath his body. So I'm going with high-ankle sprain or tweaked knee. Whatever is broken on him will keep him out 3-5 weeks, which means the Lightning are short a defenseman.

Will they go the trade route? After all, according to the rumor scuttlebutt, all of the deals for Johnny Drouin included a blueliner coming back the other way (Cody Ceci or Kevin Shattenkirk). Unfortunately, St. Louis took a hit of their own with Alex Pietrangelo hurting his knee so those talks might have cooled off a bit. Ottawa did bring in Dion Phaneuf so they could technically afford to trade Ceci.

For now it looks like they will keep things in house as they've called up Slater Koekkoek. Yes I'm excited to have someone called Slater on the team so I can make unlimited “Saved By the Bell” jokes. Also, I really, really hope he wears the number 87 so that the Lightning can ice an 86-91 line:

86 – Nikita Kucherov
87 – Slater Koekkoek
88 – Vasilevskiy
89 – Nikita Nesterov
90 – Vlad Namestnikov
91 – Steven Stamkos

A blogger can dream, right?

While Garrison's injury is not good for the team it is good for the next part of this recap....

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

I was afraid I was going to have to discontinue this feature after Matt Carle was scratched for the last few games (and Nesterov looking better with increased action). Carle did not play against Ottawa, but he did see 14:46 of action against Montreal. He did not score a point (boo), but it wasn't from lack of trying as he fired 4 shots at the net. Increase that trade value, baby!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Group Break Results - Dave and Adams Black Diamond Live Break

As I've mentioned in a previous post I've cut down on my card purchasing. Some of it has been financial, most of it has been space-related and a slim portion has been lack of interest. It's not that there haven't been sets that I want to buy, just none that have motivated me to the point where I've said to myself, “I'VE GOT TO HAVE THAT!” and immediately logged onto the internet to purchase.

I have picked up some new cards through trades (trying to be more active in that regard this year) and have been dutifully picking up my free virtual cards, but I wanted to get some hot-off-the-press, shiny new cardboard in my hands. So, instead of buying a box, I plopped down $40 for a Dave and Adams group break.

I've done a couple of low end breaks sponsored by other blogs in the past, but this is the first time I've gone in on a higher end case break sponsored by a major distributor. The product – 2015-16 Upper Deck Black Diamond. The amount – one case, five boxes.

One of my problems with group breaks is that I don't do a lot of research on the product before plunking down my money. I had no idea that Black Diamond was transitioned from a mid-tear product with a relative easy base set followed by a bunch of short printed 3-and-4-Diamond cards to a high-end, hits-based product.

Heck I went into the break without even knowing how many Lightning cards were on the checklist. A post-break search of the checklist showed that the answer to that question was – not many. Steven Stamkos had a base card and a mini relic. There was a Stamkos/Ondrej Palat Exquisite combo relic and a Slater Koekkoek rookie patch card. That's it.

So, as I fired up the computer to watch the break I thought, even if I didn't end up with the Lightning I would end up with a stack of base cards and maybe a nice insert or two. I got nervous when I saw that a box contained one pack of about five cards (with a “bonus” Exquisite card thrown on top). I'm not good at math, but with only about 30 cards getting pulled, I quickly realized that I might not end up with anything at all.

The random generator didn't land me the Lightning and I couldn't create an account for the chat function quick enough to work out a trade so I was stuck with the team that fated I should be paired with – the Winnipeg Jets. Which ended up being.....not too bad. I actually had one of the better breaks out of the group as I walked away with three cards (whoever had the Lightning got zero).

For my money I walked away with:

A Redemption! An Andrew Ladd Black Diamond Pure Black Signatures #'d to 99 Redemption to be exact. I don't have the red-rage factor for redemptions that some folks on the internet have. That's probably because I've had pretty good luck getting the actual card I've submitted or that Topps took care me of the one time I didn't get the card I was expecting. Will that streak continue? We'll find out in 12-16 weeks!

A Nikolaj Ehlers Black Diamond Rookie Team Logo Jumbo. I kind of like the idea of this card. Take a manufactured logo of a team and split it into six cards. If you can put together all six cards, you get the entire logo. It makes more sense than random patches of jerseys. Will I go for the other five cards? Maybe.

A Nikolaj Ehlers Black Diamond Rookie Signature Material Placards #'d to 125. Nice lay out with a big swatch of a jersey that was worn in a rookie photo shoot (at least they're upfront about it) and a sticker autograph. If they're going to use a sticker, at least they did it in a format where it's not hideously out of place. Well done Upper Deck.

So it was nice to pull a couple of cards from this break. Did I make my money back? Probably not, but I did get a few cards that are nice to look at. If you're interested in trading for them – make me an offer (email at yerf (at)

As for the group break process with Dave and Adams. It was pretty smooth. You go to their live group breaks web page, find a break you want to participate in, add it to your cart and check out as usual. You can watch the break live or a replay on their YouTube page.

For a high-end break like this, they send out base cards as well as the hits. For a break with more base cards you can request your base cards. After your team is assigned by random (which they show on the break) you are given a chance to make a trade. Your chances depend on how many people are watching live so it can be hit or miss. The cards were shipped out a day or so after the break so that was nice.

I would never spend $249 on a box that only contained 6 cards. For $40 for 30 cards, it was a gamble I was willing to take. So it's not a bad way to dip your toes into a higher-end product.